Thursday, June 10, 2010

Many questions come to Travelin’ Joe about where to combine a golf school and a golf vacation. I’m hesitant to recommend one over another, unless I have direct experience with the program in question. That’s why it’s easy to put in a plug for the TOUR Academy Golf School, a PGA Tour Experience. My game was ailing, so I signed up for help. In two days—heck, in two hours—I couldn’t believe the impact. Academy I’m lucky enough to play a lot of golf at a lot of wonderful courses. However, I’m no different than anybody else. Bad habits creep into the game, shots are lost here and there and eventually you find yourself residing in Slump City. My ticket out of town was the TOUR Academy Golf School (; $865 for a 2-day school). Conducted under the auspices of the PGA Tour and its PGA Tour Experiences, the TOUR Academy offers what you’d expect: state-of-the-art technology, superb teachers and compelling venues. I just never thought the results would be so quick and so satisfying. 
The TOUR Academy offers nine locations, including the latest, and from reports, the greatest, at Pronghorn in Bend, Oregon. Venues are first-class, including the TPC Sawgrass, Ritz-Carlton Golf Club and World Golf Village, all in Florida, the TPC San Antonio in Texas, Centennial Golf Club in New York and the TPC Las Vegas in Nevada. I picked the TPC Scottsdale because it was ten minutes from my house. One of my classmates, Jonathan Chang, from Chicago, chose this TPC because of the reliable Scottsdale weather and the excellent Fairmont hotel on-site. Actually, Jonathan’s family made the call. Jonathan was one of those terrific young teenagers who weighed about as much as my golf bag, yet already possessed a swing with the kind of silky tempo that had never graced my game.
What worked so well for me was a laser-like focus on the basics. No quick fixes, no gimmicks, just a return to fundamentals. There’s no substitute for Xs and Os. After a short introduction with personable PGA Head Instructor John Stahlschmidt, we plunged right into warm-up and video, followed by video analysis. We were given great reference materials—the TOUR Academy Instruction Manual that we checked and cross-checked, as we rolled through sessions called “Mastering the Basics,” “Impact Zone,” “Pivot-Dynamics of the Swing,” and “Driving.” It was a real wake-up call to be reintroduced to the basics: grip, posture and alignment. I rarely thought about the building blocks of the golf swing—and sure enough, that was the problem. I had clearly mastered the lessons of our middle session, “Lunch,” but I had issues with all the others. That’s why you go back to school.
Stahlschmidt spotted a fatal flaw in my grip: My left hand had slipped to a very weak position and I was holding the club too much in the palm, not enough in the fingers. When I experimented with the corrected grip, I couldn’t comprehend how I was going to advance the ball forward, let alone long, high and straight. The clubface was now pointed in a perfect direction, I thought, provided I was attempting to chip ice from a windshield. When I adjusted my posture and ball position, however, then turned more fully and swung on a plane that was more rounded than upright—boom! I hit my first draws with a driver in two years. I began striking crisp irons like a vintage Byron Nelson—well, like a younger Travelin’ Joe Passov. The light bulb was flickering. I was excited about swinging a golf club again.
OK, I’m not totally cured. Unfortunately, I’ve been spending more time at the keyboard than at the practice range and we all know that multiple reps are the key to muscle memory. However, I’ve got my Tour Academy Instruction Manual, complete with photos of every move and every position, plus my own notes. Dipping into it again, I realize that improvement is there for the taking. Enough writing. I’m going out into the hot sun to beat some golf balls. (Photo: The TOUR academy at TPC Sawgrass.)

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